You're wondering when you need to stop allowing your child to regularly keep a baby bottle or sippy cup in hand, or to suck on a thumb or pacifier. You know eventually these activities can cause dental problems. What do dentists, like one from HC Dentistry, generally advise in regard to timing? What problems can these habits cause if you delay too long?

Problem 1: Cavities

Toddlers who have a bottle or sippy cup in their mouth much of the time are at greater risk for cavities -- unless the liquid is only water. Cow's milk and fruit juice both contain sugar that can damage enamel if the substances aren't rinsed or brushed away. That's particularly the case when a youngster is habitually consuming these beverages. 

In addition, parents may get in the habit of using a pacifier to calm a little child or stop an episode of crying. If you do this infrequently when the child is very young, it won't cause problems with the teeth. However, avoid dipping the pacifier in any sugary substance to encourage the child to accept it. 

Cavities in baby teeth can cause pain and may spread to other teeth. The little one may need to have those cavities drilled and filled. If the situation worsens, he or she may need a root canal or to have teeth extracted.

Decay in baby teeth also is a risk factor for developing cavities in permanent teeth.

Problem 2: Future Orthodontic Issues

Babies enjoy sucking, which is important at a fundamental level because it's how they gain their nourishment. Toddlers commonly continue to generate the pleasant feelings by sucking on a pacifier or thumb after they stop breastfeeding and using a bottle. 

Unfortunately, using a pacifier or sucking on a thumb past the toddler years can lead to the top teeth starting to tilt outward and the bottom teeth tilting inward. This can affect the positioning of the permanent teeth growing under the baby teeth. Worse, frequent sucking for years can cause jaw alignment problems that later require extensive orthodontic treatment.


At any age, children should not sleep with a bottle of milk or juice, and they shouldn't carry a bottle or sippy cup around with them either unless it only contains water.

Using a pacifier and sucking on a thumb generally should stop by the age of three or four years old. If you're worried about whether these activities are already affecting your child's dental health, make an appointment with your pediatric or family practice dentist for an evaluation.